A nearly 200-unit apartment complex in Olympia received a thumbs-up from the Columbia Planning Commission on Monday, paving the way for yet another residential development in what is shaping up to be a downtown rental housing boom.
PMC Property Group – a Philadelphia developer that renovated the Olympia and Granby Mills about a decade ago – received site plan approval for the complex. The project will be built on about six acres of property in front of Granby Mill and include 6,500 square feet of retail space.
The approval was made despite concerns that the project doesn’t meet the city’s parking requirements and exceeds height limitations. The developers will have to go before the city Board of Zoning Appeals to receive variances on those matters.
“While it’s not perfect … they’ve done an awful lot of good things,” said commission member Mary Winter Teaster.
The company has received high marks from neighbors, city staff and the board for making adjustments to their plans based on the Olympia and Granby communities’ wishes. For example, the company:
• Changed the configuration of the four-story complex to not block views of Granby Mill – which resulted in the building rising to 59 feet is some areas rather than the 50 feet allowed by city codes.
• Is retaining large oak trees and building a park at the corner of Whaley and Olympia avenues, rather than using it for more units or parking – which resulted in a slight shortage in parking spaces to meet city codes.
• Included 6,500 square feet of retail to house coffee, sandwich or other shops – shops that the Olympia neighborhood has sought for years, which further exacerbate the parking shortage.
Of the 172 units to be built with grad students and young professionals in mind, 148 are one-story units, architect Scott Garvin, of Garvin Design Group said.
Krista Hampton, director of planning and development, said the parking requirements are by unit rather than bedroom. Staff recommended approval of the site plan because of the high number of one-bedroom apartments.
The new apartments would be built in the large parking lot at the corner of Whaley Street and Olympia Avenue, catty-cornered from the 701 Whaley arts center and across Heyward Street from Granby Mill.
Developer Richard Burts, 701 Whaley’s owner, said PMC architects have met with community leaders and concerned parties every Monday for two months to get input into the project.
“They are a textbook example of how things can be done right,” he said.
For instance, the park is being designed to continue to allow public gatherings, which have been held there for years, even though the land is privately owned.
The complex continues what promises to be a new boom in residential development near the city center. It was the fifth new housing project to be announced in recent months around the university, capable of housing thousands of resident.